Columns, Opinion

Outside, Looking In: Global climate action is essential now

After coexisting for billions of years, humans have begun to exploit the natural world around them.

And we’ve started to feel the cost of this transformation through unprecedented rises in global temperatures, which are set to increase by more than two degrees by 2030. By scientific standards, this is a catastrophic increase.

Changing patterns in human consumption of natural resources combined with rapid technological advancements are to blame and no one country can tackle this on their own. What makes climate change different from other international issues is that it is difficult to assign blame to particular actors for particular events.

But the impacts of climate change are not evenly shared. A study by Stanford University shows temperature increases have enriched production and the economies of cooler countries like Norway, Canada, Sweden, the U.K. and France, while slowing down economic growth in warm countries such as India, Brazil, Sudan, Indonesia and Nigeria. 

These developing countries, already economically strained by climate change, cannot alone bear the responsibility of funding sources of sustainable energy. Investments will need to be redirected, keeping in mind these economic imbalances, so developing countries can afford greener fuels to advance their growth.

Within countries, the poorest communities are already experiencing damage to their lifestyle and livelihoods. As the frequency of catastrophic events increase, global mechanisms of disaster relief will need to focus more on capacity building in at-risk regions, especially if they have poor resources at present. There also has to be coordinated planning for the provision of food, water, health services and basic amenities.

Climate change has been described as history’s “greatest market failure.” In this context, unregulated private investments are neither timely nor sufficient in minimizing fossil fuel consumption. Global institutions need to allow national governments more autonomy over where their international investments can be placed so they can steer spending toward global warming prevention. 

Governments can also subsidize producers or provide initial investments to attract interest in sustainable industries without incurring sanctions — The World Trade Organization’s own research shows that current trade patterns exacerbate the climate crisis we face. 

There is also the crisis of migration. The World Bank estimates that more than 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America will become climate migrants forced to leave their home because of ecological conditions by 2050 if concrete action on climate change is missing. In a world already polarized by the issue of immigration, this may worsen the political and social situation within countries. 

It is abundantly clear that we need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, take robust global action to fund sustainable development in developing and poor countries and invest in infrastructure for action against climate change in developed countries. This will require global policy actions that go against standard recommendations of free trade, unregulated financial flows and government intervention. 

It will require considerable public efforts, from governments and citizens, nationally and globally, if we are to survive this calamity we have brought upon ourselves.

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